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4.6 out of 5 stars
The Abolition of Man
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on November 9, 2001
Hands down, this is my favorite C. S. Lewis book, "The Screwtape Letters," and "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" notwithstanding. This book discusses moral absolutes, and what would happen if we lose the sense of right and wrong.
This short book is only three chapters long, but, charachteristically, Lewis says more with one letter than some people say their entire lives.
Chapter One discusses MORAL RELATIVISM that is taught in schools, and how the end result of relativism is a dehumanizing process where we become "men without chests," or hearts, humans without a sense of right and wrong, and therfore no longer humans. You see this idea manifested in the varous Varsity and JV Columbine-style shootings that are now en vogue.
Chapte Two discusses this set of moral laws or traditional values, which Lewis calls "the Tao." The Tao is the source of all value judgements and is the source of "traditional morality." When people try to change this morality, they are destroying all sense of right and wrong. "The human mind hs no more power of inventing an new [moral] value than of imagining a new primary color." (p. 56) We need this absolute set of moral laws to survive.
Chapter Three discusses the result of not having any absolute values: what happens is that rightness and wrongness is reduced to appetites, "the emotional strength of [the] impuse" (p.57). These is no law, just rampant and renegade emotions controlling everything. There is no sense of fairness, just a "might makes right" law of the jungle, a la Korihor.
The one appendix contains illustrations of this moral law from differing civilizations. Memebrs of the Church of Jesus Christ would see the Light of Christ behind all of this.
This is a pressing book, and should be read with "1984," "Brave New World," "People of the Lie," and "Slouching Towards Gomorrah" in mind.
Three cheers for C. S. Lewis!
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on February 18, 2003
I'll admit that some of Lewis's comments left me in the dust, but I did appreciate how well grounded some of his arguments were. If there is not some common shared moral or ethical viewpoint in the mass of humanity, then all will be lost and undoing the teaching of the past is undoubtedly a BIG mistake. If we do dismantle the teaching of the past and build something knew, just what foundation will it be built upon if the moral or ethical foundation is as small and individualized as grains of sand? Certainly some will jump all over this essay published as book (actually it reads more like lecture notes than an actual book or essay), but I found little fault with it other than the parenthetical one mentioned above. Highly recommended.
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on December 31, 2001
Lewis' insight into human nature and society's directions continues to astound me. Written nearly 60 years ago, this book describes the ultimate cost of mankind departing from the notion of objective right & wrong, from truth itself. It is particularly interesting today in light of recent "advances" in technologies for genetic manipulation. The book is such a brief read that no-one should miss the opportunity to be challenged by it.
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on December 21, 2002
In The Abolition of Man C.S. Lewis was well ahead of his times. He foresaw the development of postmodernism and deconstructionism.
His answer was not restricted to the wisdom of Western Culture. Rather he drew on cultures across the spectrum of time to demonstrate the existence of a Tao--a unifying body of moral knowledge.
Personally, I am going to require this for reading in a doctoral seminar.
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on September 11, 2011
This is one of those books to be read at different times and seasons of life. It was not an easy read, however brief it is. Anyone concerned with traditional societal values (not just Christian) held in antiquity and rejected in modernity, may be interested to give this a go. I feel like Lewis has defined and qualified what I had believed for a long time, but lacked the faculties required to sense it.
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on November 14, 2001
This is a book by C.S. Lewis. What more needs to be said? Lewis never did write one bad book, whether he was writing about fantasy, sci-fi, philosophy, criticism, or whatever. In this small book (less than 100 pages) Lewis examines what is wrong with modern education and what will be the end result of the current (even today) trend: the abolition of man. Enlightening and prophetic reading.
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on October 14, 2001
It's truly amazing how correct C.S. Lewis was in this book. From a single example of a new school book, he foretold exactly what the Liberals (in the American sense) would do to mankind via the educational establishment. A very short book, but a very good one.
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on November 25, 2001
This book is a very interesting look at the role of education in society. Lewis poses some very interesting points. A worthwhile read.
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on August 6, 2002
This book is a diatribe in reaction to five sentences that Lewis read in a children's grammar book. The authors (whom he refuses to name, thus making it impossible for anyone to check whether he fairly represents their position and successfully refutes it) stated that when we call a waterfall "sublime," we really mean "'I have feelings associated in my mind with the word sublime'...we are only saying something about our own feelings." Lewis inferred that the authors believed that there is no such thing as human virtue or intrinsic value and that a mostly hedonist biological instinct is the closest thing to a moral code that we can have--all because they said that your estimation of a waterfall's beauty says more about you than about the waterfall!
As far as I can tell, those authors were discussing aesthetics, not moral philosophy. This does not prevent Lewis from fantasizing about what their moral philosophy must be, nor from tearing it down.
Lewis opposes noncognitivism--the philosophical claim that moral statements do not represent propositions about the world--and, more specifically, emotivism--the claim that moral statements represent the speaker's emotions. His only reason is that emotivism leads to contradiction. If, when I say, "Your feelings are contemptible," emotivism would translate it to mean "My feelings are contemptible," then the theory is ridiculous and useless. But no serious emotivist would hold such a view. It is more common to translate it as "Your feelings are contemptible to me" or "I have contempt for your feelings." So Lewis is attacking a straw man and is left without any response to serious emotivism.
Lewis believes that each object merits a certain emotional reaction from us. To say that the waterfall is sublime means that it deserves our admiration, and to fail to sufficiently admire it would be a deficiency on our part. He has one rare moment of insight: "To say that a shoe fits is to speak not only of shoes but of feet," which is immediately vitiated when he uses it to illustrate the claim that our feelings must conform to reality. He does not consider that there might be other ways of evaluating the appropriateness of our emotions: their consistency with other feelings, their appropriateness according to one's principles, their conformity to etiquette, etc. The worth of a shoe can be determined in a variety of different ways, depending on whether it is meant to conform to a baby's foot, a club foot, pavement, sand, or a desire for an extra three inches of height. A shoe is not, as Lewis's theory requires, evaluated by its intrinsic nature; rather, it has, as the wise aphorism suggests, value that is relative to the people who assign it.
Nor does he adequately explain what this theory of the intrinsic worth of objects has to do with moral action. In conflating aesthetic theory with moral theory, he seems to accept the very emotivism he rails against.
He does not successfully refute moral relativism. He insists that morality must rest on certain foundational claims, such as "preserve humanity," which must be accepted as true; but he gets himself into trouble when, halfway through the book, he says these basic moral claims should be accepted as "axioms" necessary for the entire moral system. Accepting "preserve humanity" as an axiom is perfectly compatible with relativism. A relativist will have no problem acknowledging that a certain moral claim is integral to a certain moral system. What relativism denies is that the claim is objectively true outside of the system. By permitting, here, the acceptance of moral claims as merely axiomatic, Lewis undercuts support for his own insistence throughout the rest of the book that these axioms are actually true. He would have done better if he had actually read a book by any mature emotivist or relativist philosopher before trying to argue against the theory.
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